This church needs a drive-thru window! I couldn’t help comparing the service I was attending to the many fast-food restaurants we had been frequenting over the last few days. I was sick of burgers and fries. I wanted something more substantial, and better for my body. I wasn’t too excited about the church we were visiting either. They were going through the motions, but what I was craving was more of God.
We were on a road trip across much of the U.S.—almost 4,000 miles in about two weeks. It’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone, and experience new people and places. Today was Sunday, so we decided to sample a local church. We received a recommendation from some locals who we highly respect, and headed out to see what God was doing in this part of the country.
I’m afraid I was pretty disappointed.
Arriving just as the service was starting, we were nearly assaulted at the door by three greeters, who flashed us bright smiles, simultaneously wished us a good morning, and hurried us into the building. I was reminded of a football team running out onto the field while the cheerleaders lined up, brandishing their pompoms on either side. At least they were enthusiastic, and we were running a little late.
As the first song was beginning, an usher pointed us at some seats toward the back. I guess they didn’t want us distracting the few people sitting in front of us. All the aisle seats were taken, but the rows near the front of the church were mostly empty. I quickly set down my purse and program, and focused on the music.
The worship band was singing a song new to me. I didn’t know the melody, so I couldn’t immediately join in. It was a very nice song, basically thanking God for all He has done for us. I liked it. As I stumbled over the new lyrics, I glanced at the rest of the congregation. While everyone was standing, only a few people appeared to be singing along. Most simply watched the show on stage.
After the song, everyone sat down. It was time for announcements. Apparently, the church had just completed a week of Vacation Bible School, and they had lots of photos. The slide show, depicting groups of kids posed for the camera, ran about five minutes. Then we sang two more songs, running through each one twice. Again, they were both about the many ways God has blessed us.
Today happened to be Father’s Day, so of course there had to be a video of some kids and young adults explaining why their Dads were terrific. We need terrific Dads, and I was glad to hear this congregation had so many. This used up another five minutes.
Somewhere around this point the offering was taken. As a visitor, I wasn’t expecting to give to this particular body, so I didn’t pay much attention as the bags were passed.
I don’t know how often this particular congregation takes communion, but that was also a part of this morning’s service. The pastor got up and recited the pertinent verses, prayed that we would draw close to God and hear His voice, and the ushers passed the trays. This part of the service also took about five minutes. I definitely felt rushed. Maybe the pastor meant that we were to hear God’s voice later, rather than right at that moment.
Now it was time for the sermon. The pastor had clearly done his homework. He had a lot of material, and he spoke rapidly. The message was very factual. It was also pretty basic stuff I had learned years ago. Maybe there were a lot of new Christians in the congregation. Maybe the in-depth teaching happened in the adult Sunday school classes. We didn’t go to one, so I can’t evaluate that part.
And then the service was over. It had taken exactly one jam-packed hour. The people quickly filed out of the sanctuary to make room for the next service, which started in 15 minutes. We didn’t linger in the foyer, since we didn’t know anyone. As we headed back to the car, I tried to make some sense of what I had just experienced.
While there was nothing actually wrong at any point during the morning, I felt there was a lot missing… including an encounter with God. While I had sung about God, and learned about Jesus, I had never actually met Him there. Probably the best opportunity had been Communion, but it was over so quickly that I never had time to concentrate. Maybe I’m just too slow.
All too often, knowing God has been replaced by knowledge about Him. I can learn all the facts and without ever meeting the Person. There’s nothing wrong about studying what we believe. It’s a critical part of our faith. But heaven forbid we should stop there, and never go on to walk in God’s presence.
Then came the realization that nothing had been asked of me. The focus was on God’s blessings, not our commitment. There was no mention of what God might require of those who profess to call Him Lord. Even the offering was taken without fanfare.
The purpose of fast food is to satisfy our hunger without a lot of investment of time, effort, or resources. There is some nutritive value to a burger and fries, but not much. We can live on it for a while, but a steady diet will ruin our health. If we want to thrive, we need vegetables, fruits, whole grains and sufficient protein.
Likewise, this church service had some value, but everything seemed directed to satisfying a superficial need to hear truth, without requiring a significant investment of time, effort, or resources. Lacking depth, it was “Christianity Lite.” It saddens me to think that many people there will try to live all week on what is essentially a drive-through snack. Not once were we challenged to surrender to God’s authority, change our lives, or invest any part of ourselves. No wonder the American church is anemic!
Since my sampling was limited to one Sunday service, I’m hoping I just happened to hit on an off weekend. As visitors, there is much we don’t know. Perhaps the week before was all about giving one’s all for God. I hope so. Meanwhile, I have been praying that God would make all of us hungry and thirsty for more of Him.